Rift deepens over school’s future

Rift deepens over school’s future

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) – Australia’s peak Islamic body – the federation that runs Australia’s largest Islamic school has spoken out against suggestions its land should be handed over to the community following a landmark tribunal ruling.

AFIC’s stance follows a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) last week to uphold the Federal Department of Education's decision to cut its funding.

Malek Fahd Islamic School, located in Greenacre, has been fighting a Supreme Court case against the Federal Government over $19m worth of funds, which were revoked following the findings of an audit earlier last year.

On Thursday, the AAT found “the ongoing burden of the uncommercial arrangements with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils” meant the board was still not a "fit and proper person" to run a school.

Keysar Trad – who was appointed AFIC president in August – told The Educator that a crucial point in the tribunal’s decision was the lease over the Greenacre site.

“One of the board members made it clear that the Greenacre lease was below the market valuation that they had received. The other campuses may have been higher than the school had commissioned on its own,” he said.

“Be that as it may, the AAT was concerned that AFIC could enforce that lease at any point in time. The school had not paid rent on the Greenacre campus for four years, and AFIC not enforced that lease because we knew there were issues with state government funding and we wanted to help the school.”

Trad added that AFIC has done all it can to help the new body that has taken over the school, but the school board chair, Miriam Silva, has “taken the path of a protracted legal fight” with the government and the school.

“If the board negotiates the lease, reconciles the loan and adopt strong financial policies, they have to convince the court that they should overturn the decision by the review officer which was correct at the time it was made – and that’s not an easy task,” he said.

“The second possibility for them to resolve the issues is that the second application for Commonwealth registration that they’ve put through is treated by a new application and is accepted.

“It’s possible for them to do this if they fulfil the government’s requirements.”

Following the AAT’s decision, Silva, urged AFIC to separate itself completely from the school by relinquishing control of its grounds to the community.
However, Trad said Silva was displaying “contempt” for suggesting that AFIC should hand over the school’s land.

Malek Fahd is Australia’s largest Islamic school with 2,400 students and 200 staff, is one a high achieving school. In last year's HSC, its students scored 90 or above in 18% of their exams. Malek Fahd also receives some of the highest levels of public funding of any private school in Australia.

Should the school's appeal fail, local schools such as Birrong Boys, Homebush Boys and Strathfield Girls and other institutions could have to absorb thousands of future students, placing further pressure on the stretched public system.